OPINION: Time for cis-gender white men to recognise their privilege

by Adam Fitzgerald | The Refugee Coalition of East Africa
Thursday, 2 May 2019 13:07 GMT

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg confers with aids after a lunch meeting with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, New York, U.S., April 29, 2019. Bebeto Matthews/Pool via REUTERS

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

To be cis, white, male and gay is becoming an accepted identity with substantial power. The question is what will we do with that power?

Adam Fitzgerald is a director, filmmaker and writer and is currently the media representative for the LGBTQI Refugee Coalition of East Africa

From the passage of marriage equality to the current frenzy over gay presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, our place in the world as cis-gender – or comfortable in the gender to which we were assigned at birth – white gay men is shifting as we move with shocking speed into the upper echelons of the political, economic and cultural establishment.

To be cis, white, male and gay is becoming not only an accepted identity, but one with substantial power. The question now is what will we do with that power?

Many throughout history have followed the treacherous path from oppressed to oppressor, and we are dangerously close to treading those same footsteps – if we have not already.

All around the globe we find a similar turn – for example, children of American immigrants chanting for a wall at the Mexican border or post-colonial Ugandans abusing and killing queer citizens.

The seeds of a similar transition to members of a callously unaware establishment have already taken root in white, cis, gay, male America.

This sentiment of supremacy is already highly visible in what is, in essence, my culture.

Mainstream gay events continue to depict beauty as white and wealthy, and increasingly impossible (and thereby more exclusive) to achieve.

Battles have waged in multiple gay organisations about whether or not to take a strong stance on a “trans issue” – a cause we previously included in all LGBT+ activism.

And perhaps the most disturbing is the rise in (or rise in visibility of) racism in white gay culture. On dating apps and in social settings the rejection of non-white has emerged as frighteningly commonplace.

“It’s just a preference” has become the catchphrase to justify sexual segregation, without any acknowledgment that finding white people “preferable” is the very definition of racism.

Seeing this in the context of the expansion of my rights as a cis, white gay man is a terrifying prospect with massive historical and social implications. Unless we make change soon, apathy will turn to normalcy and normalcy to exclusion.

Segregation and subsequent violence are never far behind these notions. But it is not too late, but only if we act now.

We must organise against the trans military ban and other anti-trans policies, bullying and violence. We must insist that every LGBT+ organisation that gains our social and financial support make trans rights a priority.

We must collectively voice our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and stand behind, and in support of, all non-white citizens for an end to the systemic racism in our politics, schools, prisons, legal system, police forces and job sectors.

But most importantly, and before we can claim to be true allies, we cis, white gay men need to look at ourselves.

Having grown up gay in America and experienced prejudice ourselves, we must now acknowledge the privileges that being cis, white and male grant us in today’s society.  

We must look in the mirror and address our own racism, sexism, xenophobia and transphobia. We must ask ourselves: “What have I done to change? What am I going to do to sustain solidarity? What am I willing to sacrifice for what is right?”

These are difficult questions to ask, but now is the time for self-examination.

Cis, white gay men in the United States are standing at the precipice of a cliff, about to join the establishment but unaware of what that actually means.

We have an opportunity to choose not to repeat history before it is too late. We still have that choice, but time is rapidly running out.